Welcome to Just Old Flies

Welcome to 'just old flies,' a section of methods and flies that used-to-be. These flies were tied with the only materials available. Long before the advent of 'modern' tying materials, they were created and improved upon at a far slower pace than todays modern counterparts; limited by materials available and the tiers imagination.

Once long gone, there existed a 'fraternity' of anglers who felt an obligation to use only the 'standard' patterns of the day. We hope to bring a bit of nostalgia to these pages and to you. And sometimes what you find here will not always be about fishing. Perhaps you will enjoy them. Perhaps you will fish the flies. Perhaps?


The Kate


By Eric Austin


Before launching into the history of this fly, I thought I might take a minute and talk about dressing classic full dress flies from the Victorian period. These flies seem complicated, and they are, but they are easily within reach of any fly tier with basic skills.

Like any fly, to do a perfect one is another kettle of fish, but don't be put off by these. They don't all have to be perfect, and none are. Married wings, seemingly a big bugaboo for a lot of tiers, are actually quite easy to make. What I find to be the most difficult thing to master with these is keeping your emotions under control as you're tying. Stress builds, and frustration when a stage is not going well leads to more stress, and it escalates.

What I like to do is this: Take three days to tie one, and take a break between each and every stage. Yes, you can tie one of these in one sitting, I've done it many times. But I'm much happier if I spread it out over two or three days. I like to do the tag, tail, butt, body, hackle and underwing in one evening. These stages are relatively easy, though hard always to get "right" and I take a break between each and every one. Just a short one, get an ice tea, answer an email, watch a little TV, whatever. The next evening I'll make up the set of married wings and tie them on. This can be stressful, especially the tying them on part. I have a method now that never fails me, and I hope to elucidate in an upcoming Fly of the Week here. For this fly, the wing went alright, so I went ahead and finished the fly the same night. Normally, I don't like to do that unless things are really flowing. On the third night I would typically do all the work around the head, sides, shoulders, cheeks, beard, hackle, roof, topping, and horns. This is the real difficult part, and it's really hard to take your time here, but it's a must. Patience is everything with these. Now, on to The Kate.

The Kate is another in a long line of flies originated by women. Women have always brought great creativity to the craft of fly tying, and Mrs. Courtney, originator of The Kate, was no exception. The fly was one of the first of the very fancy flies to replace the older, more scantily dressed salmon flies in the middle of the 19th century. Her fly was quite similar to the one shown, except that it featured seal's fur for part of the body. Mine is more along the lines of the Pryce-Tannatt version, which has a body only of floss with a palmered hackle and ribbing. Mrs. Courtney's version, according to Kelson, also had some light blue swan in the wing, which Pryce-Tannatt's doesn't have. Francis Francis has a version similar to Mrs. Courtney's, but with pig's wool for part of the body replacing the seal. I think most of these tiers did small variations, dictated by what materials they had on hand or how they felt materials performed in the water. The most liberties were generally taken in the winging, and Francis Francis adds some green swan in his. Even with all the variations, you can tell the Kate at a glance by the crimson body and yellow throat hackle. Here's Pryce-Tannatt's dressing:

The Kate

Tag: Silver tinsel and lemon floss.

Tail: A topping and blue chatterer [kingfisher here].

Butt: Black ostrich herl.

Body: Crimson floss ribbed with silver tinsel.

Hackle: Red, palmered from second turn; Yellow at the shoulder.

Wings: Mixed tippet in strands; "married" strands of scarlet and yellow swan, golden pheasant tail and bustard; "married" strips of teal and barred summer duck; brown mallard strips over.

Sides: jungle cock and blue chatterer [Kingfisher here]; a topping over all.

Horns: Blue and yellow macaw.

Credits: The Salmon Fly by George Kelson; Classic Salmon Flies by Mikael Frodin. ~ Eric Austin

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